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Child Custody

Custody: What Does The Law Consider?

Florida Statute § 61.13 lists the factors that the law will consider when developing a child custody, also known as time-sharing, schedule. One major factor is whether you will encourage a close and continuing relationship between the children and the other parent. The law considers your histories and personalities. Section 61.13 examines whether you will be reasonable when changes are required. The law also considers your ability to keep each other informed regarding important matters regarding the children. Florida law frowns upon parents who disparage the other in front of the children or bring the children into their disputes.

Parental Responsibility and Child Custody

Section 61.13 also discusses parental responsibilities and whether third parties will have decision-making authority. For example, if you work eighty hours a week, it may not be realistic for you to have custody the majority of the time. Another consideration is whether you will be able to participate in the children’s school and extracurricular activities.

Another factor is whether you have demonstrated the capacity and disposition to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the children as opposed to your own needs or desires.

It is important to maintain stability as much as possible for the children.  Accordingly, the law considers the length of time the children have lived in a stable, satisfactory environment. Often times, if a temporary schedule is going well, the law suggests that it may be best to keep that custody schedule in place, especially if the child is tied to that home, school, and community.

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When Will I Get to See My Children?

Has your spouse petitioned for divorce and is now keeping your children from you? If so, you are likely wondering when you will get to see your children. There are several scenarios that could affect when you will be able to see your children.

Traditional Litigation Approaches

If your spouse simply refuses to allow you to see your children, and there is not yet a court order in place governing when each parent has time with the children, you may have to wait a few months before you see them. Of course, you have just as much right to your children as your spouse. But if your spouse is refusing you access, it likely isn’t in your children’s best interests to force the issue and cause an altercation. Depending on your situation, you may need to move for an emergency hearing to have the judge decide temporary timesharing as expeditiously as possible. Even in situations where a parent is denying the other parent access, a judge may require that parties mediate before allowing a temporary relief hearing to be set.

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Will I Get Custody of My Kids?

Every parent going through a divorce fears that they will not receive sufficient time or custody with their children. For parents who are used to seeing their children whenever they please, the thought of a third party ordering a schedule by which they have to abide can be nerve-wracking.

Traditional Divorce Court – Judge Decides Custody

If you decide to litigate your divorce in court, you will leave your destiny to a judge who only receives a snapshot glance at your life and parenting abilities. Outside factors will impact your case like the attorneys’ trial abilities, the mood and beliefs of the judge who is assigned to your case, the opinion of the experts which may be determined by which party is paying him, and how the parties and witnesses present themselves in court.

So how do you ensure a positive result in your case? Keep the decision in your own hands. Divorces do not have to occur in court, and actually, most do not. There are several courtless divorce options that are available that leave these important decisions to you and your spouse.

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Sample Christmas Custody Schedules

If you are divorcing in Tampa Bay and you have children, Florida law requires that a parenting plan be created.  The parenting plan outlines parental responsibility (decision-making authority) along with a time-sharing (custody) schedule.

The time-sharing schedule should not only address where the children stay during the school year and in summer months, but also how holidays, such as Christmas, are to be handled.

Below are some sample Christmas time-sharing schedules:

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Will a Florida Judge Order a Doggy Custody Schedule?

When two people are getting divorced in Florida, and they have one or more minor children, a custody schedule (now known in Florida as a time-sharing schedule)  must be established.  Approximately 90-95% of all cases settle at some point (whether it is before the filing of a petition for divorce or after spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing for or even going through trial), and so the parties generally end up agreeing to a child time-sharing schedule.  But in those times where they do not agree, a Florida family law judge will take the decision out of the hands of the parents and set a time-sharing schedule.

But divorce doesn’t only affect the children.  It also affects the family pets.  So will a Florida judge order a doggy (or kitty) custody schedule?

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When Is A Guardian Ad Litem Appointed in Florida?

You may have heard the term “guardian ad litem” and wondered what they were and when they were appointed.

In a Florida divorce or child custody case, a guardian ad litem is a professional who looks out for the best interests of a child.  Florida Statutes Section 61.401 describes the circumstances under which a guardian ad litem is appointed:

In an action for dissolution of marriage or for the creation, approval, or modification of a parenting plan, if the court finds it is in the best interest of the child, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to act as next friend of the child, investigator or evaluator, not as attorney or advocate. The court in its discretion may also appoint legal counsel for a child to act as attorney or advocate; however, the guardian and the legal counsel shall not be the same person.

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Florida Child Custody, Military Service, and Grandparents’ Rights

If a parent who is the subject of a Florida child custody order is activated, deployed, or temporarily assigned to military service, that military parent may be able to designate the child’s grandparents to care for the child in his or her absence.

Related: Florida Grandparents’ Rights and Collaborative Divorce

Florida Statutes section 61.13002(2) states that, if a military parent so desires, a grandparent can take over that parent’s time-sharing schedule under certain circumstances.  The activation, deployment, or temporary assignment must be ordered for more than 90 days and materially affect the military parent’s ability to exercise his or her time-sharing rights.  The military parent must notify the other parent of the designation in writing.   The written notice must be provided to the other parent at least 10 days before the grandparent is to take over the military parent’s time-sharing.

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What Is A Florida Parenting Plan?

Any Florida parent who is going through a divorce with children or otherwise dealing with child custody issues will need to have a parenting plan.  A parenting plan is document that is either agreed upon by the parents or created by a judge that sets out each parents’ rights and responsibilities.  The Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pinellas and Pasco Counties) further describes a parenting plan as follows:

It is the public policy of this state to assure that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. Florida Statutes, section 61.13(2)(c).

A parenting plan is a document developed and agreed to by the parents of a minor child, and approved by the court, or if the parents cannot agree, established by the court, which governs the relationship between the parents regarding the child (encompassing “custody”, “parental responsibility”, and “visitation”). A parenting plan may address issues such as the child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being, and must include a time-sharing schedule. The parenting plan must take into account the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction when addressing jurisdictional issues.

For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, which governs each parent’s relationship with his or her minor child and the relationship between each parent with regard to his or her minor child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

Any parenting plan approved by a court must address the following issues:

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Private Child Custody Proceedings: Florida Collaborative Practice

When people are seeking to gain child custody rights in Florida – whether through divorce, paternity, establishment of parenting plan, grandparent custody, or other proceedings – the first step they usually take is file a petition with the Clerk of the Court.

Generally speaking, this is a mistake.

By filing a petition, they are entering into the public court system which pits mother against father.  This is an adversarial system which oftentimes leads parties to engage in emotionally and financially draining court battles, and all dirty laundry gets examined and aired.

But there is another way, a private way of determining parental responsibility and child time-sharing schedules.  It is called collaborative practice, also known as collaborative family law.

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Florida Child Custody Reform 2013

There has been a lot of press lately about efforts to reform Florida’s alimony laws.  As discussed on this blog, Senate Bill 718 (which primarily deals with alimony reform) passed the Florida House by a wide margin (85 Yeas versus 31 Nays) and, since it had also passed the Florida Senate, will be going to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.

Update: Governor Scott Vetoes Senate Bill 718

One area that may be even more significant, but has not received as much coverage, is language in Senate Bill 718 that reforms Florida’s child custody laws.  Currently, there is no presumption in favor of or against any child custody schedule, including a 50/50 split custody (known as equal time-sharing).  Senate Bill 718, however, adds language to section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes that seems to make a strong presumption in favor of equal time-sharing.

The text of the child custody provisions of Senate Bill 718 is reproduced below (deleted language is stricken while new language is underlined):

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